Web 2.0: Blogs and RSS: Librarians and the Blogosphere

Note: This post was created for a graduate level class at the University of Alberta: EDES 501 Web 2.0 for Libraries.

It is hard to remember what the internet was like before blogs. Now, I am not sure what I would do without them...

What are blogs and RSS?

Blogs are easily to created webpages (also called weblogs) used to display and share ideas and other information like links, pictures or videos. Blogging does not require a web server, or HTML knowledge. Blog sites are easy to use and provide a simple publishing interface, as well as a professional looking main page. They can be written on any computer with internet access, allow for archiving of posts, the ability organize posts using tags or labels, and can be personalized with widgets (eg. Twitter, blogroll, label list, search box, RSS subscription tool)

The most popular free blog sites are Blogger, Wordpress, Livejournal, Tumblr, Typepad, and Moveable Type.

It has been suggested that there are 3 main types of blogs:
-Personal / Point-of-View - reports of events and impressions
-Practice / Purposeful - links to useful info and new resources
-Philosophical / Polemical - explorations and discussions of big ideas
The following is an excellent summary of various blogging styles and types of blogs.

Blogs offer the people "the freedom to share, voice an opinion, and conversing
with others about a common theme" (Draper & Turnage, 2008, p. 16) and are an incredible creative outlet. Blogs may have started off as personal diaries or journals, but are now " a powerful tool for communicating timely information" (Black, 2007, p.6). You can find blogs for any topic using helpful search services like Technorati or Google's Blog Search.

There are of course disadvantages to blogs. They can be biased, inaccurate, and unmediated, thus the content is not appropriate for all information uses, such as homework assignments or the inclusion in scholarly papers. They can also be deleted at any point, which makes blogs hard to index.

Blogging statistics are available from Scribd, which states that in 2008 there were 184 million bloggers, and 346 million blog readers world wide. So while some critics claim blogging is a dying art, the fact that Blogger grew 68% last year refutes this claim. More statistics are also available from The Future Buzz.

RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication' or 'Rich Site Summary' (Black, 2007) and is used to read blogs. It is a protocol (often using XML) that lets users subscribe to online content using a feed reader or aggregator which checks the web for updated content. Users do not have to go to each website they like regularily, instead they can just read the updated content through their reader. Feed readers and aggregators offer filtering and organizing capabilities. Free RSS feed readers include Google Reader, Netvibes, and Bloglines.

Unfortunately, not all sites offer RSS feeds. Most blogs do offer RSS functionality, but static webpages often do not. Also, if you just use a reader, you miss other changes to a website, and the visual effect of looking at the homepage. RSS also has other uses besides feeding blog content. RSS Specifications lists many other uses including real estate listings, job postings, auction items, airline delays, events calendars and search terms (Black, 2007).

For more about RSS, please see the How To Use Google Reader Tutorial Series, the tutorial for using RSS from the Southern Ontario Library Service, or the tutorial linked to from the Edmonton Public Library.

If a library has a blog, they need to enable the RSS functionality so that users can keep up to date with their content. Also, for professional development purposes, librarians should use a feed reader or aggregator to organize their feeds and stay up to date with content from the blogs they choose to follow.

My Experiences
I started to follow blogs in 2007. I started following blogs for personal interest, but quickly developed a long list of library related professional development blogs to read. Initially, I used the aggregator Netvibes, but at that time found that is was very slow to load and would affect the loading time of other applications on the internet. Once I switched my email account to gmail in early 2008, I became aware of the RSS reader Google Reader. I love Google Reader, it saves me so much time. The interface is simple to use and very intuitive. It is very easy to add RSS subscriptions, and to categorize them by subject or other label. I also have an iGoogle homepage, and there is a widget on my homepage which shows me what new blog content is available. It is as simple as clicking the link, and then I can view the new content right from my homepage.

Recently Google Reader has begun to implement social networking functionality. I can 'follow' other people who use Google Reader, and can view the content they choose to share. I do not like this option, as it clutters my RSS feeds with content that my friend might think is interesting, but more often than not I do not find it interesting, nor do I appreciate these rogue feeds cluttering up my list. Currently I subscribe to about 100 blogs, and am constantly adding to and deleting blogs from my list. To view my complete blogroll, please see the right column of my personal blog.

I read a variety of types of blogs. I like following library/librarian blogs because they keep me informed of trends, new technology and events. These blogs offer suggestions and best practice examples which will be useful as I progress throughout my career. They also provide humour, fun stories and networking opportunities.

The following is a list of useful Librarian blogs:
  1. iLibrarian: This blog always links to other interesting content, usually about Library 2.0 technology. iLibrarian sums up the important points of a topic, and then links to the main page. I have used iLibrarian posts throughout this class, as they are up to date and relevant to current technologies.
  2. Stephen's Lighthouse: Stephen Abram's blog usually links out to web 2.0 and other library trend news. He also blogs about conferences, presentations he has given, and other fun or interesting library news or ideas.
  3. ACRLog: Reading this blog from the Association of College and Research Libraries is a great way to keep track of what is going on in academic libraries, and offers a lot of advice and helpful best practice suggestions. The posts are written in a more professional scholarly manner and are always relevant and timely to academic library topics.
  4. Rethinking Information Careers: This blog gives a lot of tips and insight into finding, and doing well in library jobs. While it is not updated all that often, the posts always provide insider knowledge and tips about job searching, or about what it's like to be new in the career field.
  5. Swiss Army Librarian: Sometimes personal, sometimes thought provoking and often humourous, this blog is quite varied. It is a true reflection about what goes on in libraries. He also posts a reference question of the week, which can be funny or thought provoking.
Please check out my blogroll for more excellent librarian blogs.

I have been a blogger since 2005, and currently maintain a travel blog and a personal blog, in addition to one for this class assignment. For more information about my blogs, and about why I chose Blogger, please see my Introduction post.

A couple weeks ago I became aware of the Blogger in draft after noticing an advertisement on my Blogger dashboard (where I can see my blog content and editing options). Blogger in draft is a special version of Blogger that allows bloggers to try out new features before they are released to everyone. It is like a sandbox, or a place to try out new functions and leave feedback. Currently they are working on geotagging, a new post editor, star rating functions and search boxes. I decided to try out the new post editor.

The draft editor has many new functions. There is an undo and redo button (as often the browser undo/redo does not work), a strike-through text option (previously only available through HTML code), a highlight text option, quote formatting (also currently only handled by HTML code), and remove formatting. I can see how all of these new options would be very useful, and I would personally make use of the quote and remove formatting option. They are also changing the way the schedule posts (which often does not work) and are adding more HTML options.

Here is the post I wrote to test the new functions:

I really like some of the test functions, especially the quote button. Blogger in draft will allow a user to switch their dashboard permanently to the test post editor, so I tried that, but once I returned to this post to edit it, all the formatting and pictures were all messed up or missing. Also I noticed a spelling mistake on my test post (see above picture, oops!). I went back to edit it, but now the formatting has changed back to regular Blogger, and the highlight text function does not work (it has instead reverted to a pink text colour. I hate pink.). You can compare the above picture, to the converted formatting by viewing the post here. Apparently Blogger in draft and regular Blogger do not play nice with each other yet.

So while there are some really neat options in Blogger in draft, I am content to wait until the changes make their way to regular Blogger. I am going to use Blogger in draft occasionally though. I like the new functions, and also like being aware of what changes are coming. I appreciate that Blogger has this new draft service.

Blog Uses in Libraries and for Librarians
Library Blogs
If a library does set up a blog, they must consider the audience they are trying to reach, and produce appropriate content for that audience (Fichter, 2003). A library could use a blog as a forum for sharing:
The Edmonton Public Library produces blogs for subject guides, customer reviews, events and job postings. A blog could also be used as a homepage, and by students in the case of school libraries. They can be effective forums for obtaining feedback about services, programs and facilities (Draper & Turnage, 2008). Draper & Turnage (2008) also report 70% of libraries use blogs to market the library to patrons and the community; mostly this is accomplished by providing a link to the library's homepage. Most importantly though, a blog should encouraging community discussion. A list of library blogs can be found here and here.

Gilman 2008 offers numerous suggestions for library blogs. First, the blog must have a purpose, as in there is no point in blogging just for the sake of using trendy technology. The library must also know their technical limitations, for example is there a firewall that prevents viewing the content, or has a filter blocked blogs in general. The blog must be kept up to date and consistent attention must be made in order to keep it relevant. Also, the blog should reflect the voice of the library, since readers will respect and expect authenticity.

Librarian Blogging and Professional Development
Schwartz (2007) offers a list of why librarians should blog:
  1. Blogging keeps you current.
  2. Blogs are advocacy tools.
  3. Blogs build community.
  4. Blogs showcase your unique image.
  5. Writing is a form of creative release.
  6. It's easy!
Librarians can blog to:
  • document personal and/or professional expression of ideas
  • share about conference, seminar or workshop attendance and participation
  • keep in touch with acquaintances, friends and colleagues
  • share with others best practices and what they are doing (Library Day In The Life Project)
A list of librarian blogs can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. A simple google search for 'librarian blogs' will being up many, many more. There certainly are a lot of librarians in the blogosphere! Laning et al. (2005) also offers a list of popular librarian blogs, as well as a discussion about the history of library blogs. For a scholarly review of librarian blogs, please see the Bar-Ilan (2007) article. They have included many links to more librarian blogs, plus I highly recommend viewing table 1, which lists numerous topics covered by bloggers ranging from library awareness to politics to patron stories. This table provides many more types of content librarians and libraries could use in their blogs.

Regardless of the type or why a librarian blogs or reads blogs, they do provide current information about trends and other topics which can be useful for our professional knowledge base. Schwartz (2007) suggests "by visiting the blogs of other librarians, you gain the perspective of others working in your field, confronting similar issues and exploring solutions. You also experience the wonderful diversity of opinions, perspectives and personalities that make up our field."

Recently there was some controversy when the Annoyed Librarian became employed by Library Journal to produce a blog. The controversy stems from the publishing of an entire academic journal written by this blogger (who's identity has not been released), thus it lacks all peer-reviewed academic integrity. You can follow up on this controversy here, here and here. While I agree that bloggers should be free to write about what they want, and think it is exciting Library Journal has employed a blogger, I also think LJ has 'sold out'. Demeaning academic integrity of a journal by turning it over to an anonymous blogger does not impress researchers or academics, nor does it promote our academic content to other professions. One column by a blogger in a journal is a fantastic idea - giving the whole journal to a blogger, not so much.

Gilman 2008 notes a variety of benefits of using blogs for professional development. As mentioned previously, they allow for instant distribution of content, and thus enable quicker adoption of new technologies and practices. They offer the ability to comment on and discuss ideas without abusing email inboxes. Blogs can link library professionals from around the world, as they share best practices and knowledge. They have the ability to disseminate and advocate for legislative and professional change, and give users the ability to view multiple blogs at once through RSS readers. Thus, blogs are an effective way for librarians to meet and stay in touch with other professionals, while they share, debate and change elements of the profession.

Libraries or librarians who blog must be actively engaged with their readers, respond to comments, ask questions, and encourage discussion and communication. Only then can we say blogging has been used to its full potential.

A Major Issue To Consider
Blogging about certain information may get a blogger in trouble.

Herzog (2009), a librarian blogger, recently discussed personal blogging by library employees. Librarians can get in trouble (ie. lawsuits brought against them) for what they write, and must be mindful about this, whether they are writing a blog for their library, their own professional blog or a personal one. You must think before you publish, because even though you can delete posts, there are always ways to view old content (using a cached copy of the page for example. Thus a blogger must get permission before using names, or be vague about who they are referring too. A personal website should have a disclaimer disassociating it from the library or even town where the blogger works or lives. The blogger must be respectful of patrons, colleagues and the institution. Employers and other agencies can search blogs and read content or view images, thus the blogger must endeavor to portray their library, and themselves in a professional manner.

Herzog (2009) also believes "it might be a good idea for libraries to create some sort of guidelines for staff who publicly use the library’s name online...basic guidelines might help a well-meaning library employee avoid awkward situations they might not have otherwise considered." A blogger should check for existing policies for provincial/municipal/insitutional employees regarding content creation. The post also offers numerous links to useful websites regarding social networking policy (eg. Sample policy for companies, and Massachusetts Regional Library System Policies). Other social software policies from libraries are available from another librarian blog at What I Learned Today.

It is evident that "blogs will continue to play an important role in the exchange of ideas and in the growth and development of library practice, services and technology" (Gilman, 2008). Are you a blogger? What professional blogs do you follow? Does your library have a blog? How do you use RSS feeds?

Bar-Ilan, Judit. (2007). The use of weblogs (blogs) by librarians and libraries to disseminate information. Information Research, 12(4) http://informationr.net/ir/12-4/paper323.html.
Black, Elizabeth L. (2007). "Web 2.0 and library 2.0 What librarians need to know." In Nancy Courtney (Ed.), Library 2.0 and beyond: Innovative technologies and tomorrow's user, (pp.1-14). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Draper, L., & Turnage, M. (2008). Blogmania: Blog use in academic libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 15-55.
Fichter, Darlene. (2003). Why and how to use blogs to promote your library's services. Information Today Inc, 17(6): http://www.onlineinc.com/mls/nov03/fichter.shtml.
Gilman, I. (2008). We're content creators, too: Libraries and blogging. OLA Quarterly, 14(1), 14-28.
Herzog, Brian. (2009). Library policy about personal blogging. Swiss Army Librarian http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/2009/07/14/library-policy-about-personal-blogging.
Laning, M., Lavallée-Welch, C., & Smith, M. (2005). Frontiers of effort: Librarians and professional development blogs. Journal of Library Administration, 43(3), 161-179.
Ryan, J., & Pankl, E. (2006). Shhh! librarians blogging. Louisiana Libraries, 69(1), 7-10.
Schwartz, Greg. (2007). Blogs for libraries. Webjunction http://www.webjunction.org/technology/web-tools/articles/content/430713.
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